Fostering a Better Future

Heady times these days for the engineering sector. Not only do energy, chemical, and utility companies have the need to build new facilities to either augment or replace existing infrastructure, but they actually have the money to spend as well. And while we've already tackled big builders like Fluor (NYSE: FLR  ) , Shaw (NYSE: SGR  ) , Washington Group (Nasdaq: WGII  ) , and McDermott (NYSE: MDR  ) , today we turn our attention to FosterWheeler (Nasdaq: FWLT  ) .

Cyclicality is nothing new to this industry, but Foster got wrung through the cycle a little harder than most. High project losses and perhaps less-than-prudent balance sheet management led to a near-death experience for the company. Finally, though, things are starting to look up a bit.

Results for the quarter highlight the improvements across the sector. Revenue was up 24%, reported earnings were up substantially, and EBITDA was up close to 50%. Just as important, new orders more than tripled and the company's backlog was up nearly one-quarter on a sequential basis.

While most big builders are diversified to some extent, they all tend to have their specialties. In the case of Foster Wheeler, you're talking mostly about process-related industries like energy, chemicals, and refining, as well as fossil fuel power generation. And those aren't bad places to be these days. Although the U.S. is resistant to new refineries, other parts of the world (like the Middle East) are not, and there are LNG facilities going up seemingly everywhere.

As I know I've mentioned before, stocks in this phase of the game are tricky to value. They've all had good runs, and they don't look cheap. But then again, there were dozens of mining and energy stocks that didn't look that cheap a year or two ago, and look at what those sectors have done. I personally feel a bit more drawn to Washington Group these days, but that shouldn't be read to mean that I dislike Foster Wheeler. Provided there are no huge shocks to the world economy, business here should be strong for the coming years.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).


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